April 14, 2004 – "The most important thing is that the Waste Management Authority is absolutely necessary, and the governor agrees," Sen. Louis Hill said Wednesday after his committee deleted four major sections of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's proposed amendments to the act creating the authority.
The Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee approved Hill's "amendment in the nature of a substitute" which deleted the sections of the governor's amendment proposal document that Hill found objectionable.
When Turnbull made history in January by signing the Waste Management Authority into law after two decades of debate, he said he did so "reluctantly" and that he would be submitting various amendments to the act.
Defending those amendments Wednesday were Attorney General Iver Stridiron, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett and Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood.
"The bulk of Turnbull's amendments are technical in nature and will clarify various sections of the law," Hill told the governor's representatives. "Ninety percent of the amendments I agree with, but there are other changes to the original legislation which will hamper the authority's ability to function."
Hill took issue with those which he saw as taking the teeth out of the authority. One of them would reinstate the Anti-Litter and Beautification Fund. The source of revenue for the fund has been the deposit on beverage cans and bottles paid by consumers since it was enacted more than a decade ago, with the money disbursed through the Finance Department.
Hill strongly defended keeping the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission under the new Waste Management Authority. "Once the environmental user fee is in place, that tax would cease," he said of the container deposit. "It would amount to double taxing."
Hill made it clear that there is no one or two cent per pound environmental user fee in the WMA bill. Turnbull had proposed a two cent fee last year, but it never became part of the legislation. Speaking after the meeting, Hill made it clear there is "no established user fee now." He said the authority will meet with the Public Services Commission and the private sector to determine the fee.
Also, he said, disbursement should not be in the hands of the Finance Department, for appropriations passed by the Legislature. "Recent history should guide us in a different direction," he said, citing recent revelations about anti-litter money having been spent for everything from a fire truck to pharmacy supplies. (See "Answers sought to Anti-Litter fund questions".)
Callwood and Stridiron disagreed. "The governor wants to keep the IRB collecting the funds, but have the authority have total control of dispensing," Callwood said. "The governor wants to ensure the funds are used for beautification," Stridiron said.
Questions of semi-autonomy
Hill insisted the authority should enjoy the same semi-autonomy that the Water and Power Authority and the Port Authority have.
"I don't know why the governor wants to change the ALBC fund," he said later. "It's not any different from WAPA, VIPA or the hospital. Those agencies have a lot more control than the central government of their money. If ALBC had been managed by a semi-autonomous agency, it [the missing funds] wouldn't have come up."
Hill also took issue with the governor's insistence that all Waste Management Authority contracts and purchases go through the Property and Procurement Department. "As we all know, Property and Procurement has great difficulty moving contracts through the system," he said. "Their falling behind led to the court consent orders [concerning the sewage system]."
Later, Hill said having to go through Property and Procurement would "severely weaken the legislation by inhibiting the authority's ability in a timely manner to satisfy court-mandated orders or EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] administrative orders, with possible fines attached. It would further prevent an efficient system for writing contracts, purchasing supplies or making repairs." And, he added, "VIPA and WAPA do not have this restriction."
Stridiron said the governor's idea was for the authority to work with P and P and "let them track the process."
Hill also objected to Turnbull's amendment to make the Waste Management Authority utilize the Public Finance Authority for issuing bonds. "The governor's amendment removes the ability to issue bonds from the authority," he said. "Many feel that the environmental use fee will give a better guarantee for repayment, as the money would come off the top, which could encourage a higher bond rating."
The governor also proposed removing the existing three-year term limit for authority classified employees on the authority's board. Hill feared that without a limit, the law would allow government employees to say on the board for the term of their positions, so he deleted the proposal in his amendment.
Not all of Hill's committee members agreed with his responses to Turnbull's proposals. Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said he essentially agreed with the governor's amendments to the waste-management law, although "we knew there would be problems when we drafted it. We knew it needed amending."
Questions on contracting procedures
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg brandished a release from Veolia Water North America, the company contracted by the administration to design, construct and operate a long-term wastewater management system. "I smell a rat," he said. (See "Sewage plants contract for $123M and 20 years".)
Donastorg quizzed Stridiron on the contract for the company, asked why it had not been put out to bid, and asked who the principals were. "This release says Veolia has won a $123 million, 20-year contract," he said. He asked Stridiron when the Legislature had been informed of this.
At Hill's suggestion, Stridiron pointed out the contract had been placed before the Legislature during a full session on March 23 when Donastorg was absent. At the session, most senators complained that they had been given little time to peruse the voluminous contents of the thick binders they were given.
Stridiron said a request for qualified bids was put out for the contract and that the bid specifications were highly technical. "The company had to show that it had the strength," Stridiron said. "We were in months of negotiations."
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone pointed out that the company was represented at the March 23 Senate meeting by Winston and Strawn, the government's attorneys. Donastorg, through Hill, asked Stridiron to forward the contract to the committee by the end of the day, or as soon as possible.
Voting for Hill's amendment substituting the governor's bill were Sens. Carlton Dowe, Roosevelt David, Hill and Ronald Russell. Voting against were Sens. Donastorg and Malone; Sen. Liburd was absent for the vote.
The amended bill will now go to the Rules Committee.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.